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Trojan ranks DePaul most sexually unhealthy university

By Natalia Hernandez
On November 6, 2011

Last October, Trojan released the annual "Sexual Health Report Card," an evaluation on the sexual health resources and information available to students. Out of the 141 colleges and universities evaluated, DePaul was ranked dead last.

This was not the first time DePaul received such a ranking. In 2008 and 2009, Trojan ranked DePaul as the most sexually unhealthy school. Last year, DePaul went up in Trojan's ranking from 141 to 138.

Student Health Advocates (SHA) was created in 2009 to promote sexual health on-campus and is the only health based student group at DePaul.

SHA President Erin Freund said they are limited in how they can educate students because the organization is funded through the university with Student Activity Fee Board funds. Freund said Trojan never contacted SHA in regard to the report card.

Freund said SHA has a strict policy against its members distributing condoms. If they are caught violating this policy, the group could be shut down.

"As a student organization we have never pushed to distribute condoms. That's the biggest thing [the university] doesn't want us to doing," Freund said.

"SHA has a 110 percent policy for our members to not do that," Freund said. "Because we receive money through the university, we would be in violation of this strict policy at DePaul. We would be shut down as an organization. We think it's more important to be out there and talk about these issues."

Sterling's BestPlaces, an independent research firm, collects data for Trojan through student health center representatives with follow up research on those centers across 13 categories.

DePaul University does not have a health center facility, which raises a question as to how it could be evaluated for the report.

Brigham Young University (BYU), a Mormon institution in Utah, ranked higher than DePaul on the report card. BYU has a health center, but prohibits students from wearing any kind of backpack or shoulder bag that hugs across their body.

Assistant Dean of Students, Art Munin, filled out the report on behalf of the university in 2010. Last year, The DePaulia reported that Munin attributed partial blame to Trojan and said that the categories are not assessed equally when determining a school's overall sexual health.

"They will not tell us what the optimal answers to their questions are," Munin said in 2010. "They will not tell us how they rate the categories against against each other, and they don't communicate back with us about where we should grow or develop."

Munin suspected that on-campus condom distribution is weighed more heavily since a condom company is administering the study.

But DePaul does not only lack in on-campus condom distribution, they outright prohibit it.

DePaul's stance on providing contraceptives to the student body is outlined in The Policy and Procedure Manual titled "Restrictions on Public Distribution of Inappropriate Health and Medical Devices/Supplies" issued by Student Affairs in collaborating with University Missions and Values:

"Always respecting Academic Freedom and the right of free speech, DePaul University reserves the right to restrict the distribution of medical or health supplies/devices items on university premises that it deems to be inappropriate from the perspective of the institution's mission and values. Specifically, the distribution of birth control devices, of any kind, is strictly prohibited on university premises."

Further, "The University does encourage educational programs that provide a balanced view on health related lifestyle issues and choices. It is expected that Catholic teachings be provided as a part of these programs."

While SHA is heavily monitored by the administration, individual students are not and cannot face the same penalties.

Diana Castro, a senior, remembered a time when renegade condom donations were one of the only options for DePaul students without resources.

"My freshman year, my old roommate had a box with like 1,000 condoms," Castro said. "She would hand it out to people, but she had to be kind of ‘low key' about it and she couldn't do it in the Student Center."

"She told me it was because DePaul didn't really let students hand them out because of religious reasons," Castro said. "Honestly though, I think that is B.S. and being a university that is supposed to be liberal, I feel like not allowing the distribution of condoms or even educating students a little bit more about sexual health goes against what DePaul stands for."

Freund, who said she is frustrated by the ranking, said the lack of options for resources at DePaul is overwhelming. There is only one university resource for sex related offenses, Sexual Violence and Support Services that is only a part-time, 3 day a week position.

"It's frustrating for a lot of reasons as a student organization," Freund said. "This survey kind of helped us realize that we want to go in an additional direction and start working towards the university administration to take a hard look at its policies if that means engaging the body in active discourse and holding forums. It's frustrating but incredibly motivating."

This quarter SHA members were invited by RAs to come speak about LBGTQ health, sexual health in general, sexual violence and consent, and condom use. Each member must go through at least 30 hours of training before giving demonstrations.

SHA will hold a free HIV testing event Wednesday in the Lincoln Park Student Center from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Freund said that although SHA does not need the administration to approve SHA events, the group is told that they must talk about abstinence and other things in accordance with Catholic values in addition to other ways to be sexually healthy.

"Just the fact that we are really open about talking about sex and think its necessary to talk about, makes the administration uncomfortable," she said. "They can't tell us what to do or what not to do as long as we stay within the boundaries."

Last year, SHA invited members of the administration to a forum where students were able to ask about the lack of sexual health resources on campus. Freund said she hopes to hold a similar forum this year.

The Dean of Students is currently in the process of hiring a Sexual Health Coordinator for the university, a position that has been open for more than a year. But like Student Violence and Support Services, it will be a one-person part-time position.

While it is a move in the right direction, Freund said it's not enough and that maybe the survey results will help close the disconnect between students and the administration.

"I think it's interesting because DePaul always talks about the center of human dignity missions and values, but not keeping up its part to help the student body to actually be healthy," she said.

"It's not that the university is ignoring," she said. "They just are not putting in the resources and it's a detriment to our students' health."

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